Rye Brook's Orchard, Lady Rams’ BK both opt for shot at Villanova Wildcats
April 18, 2019 at 7:46 a.m.
They made her an offer she couldn't refuse.
That explains why Rye Brook's Bridget Orchard isn't living in Rye Brook anymore after nearly two decades spent there.
And why she isn't coaching Fordham University's Lady Rams softball team anymore either after 17 years as the most successful coach in the school's softball history.
Jump to big time
The reason she couldn't refuse the offer was because it came from Villanova.
It was the chance of a lifetime—big bucks, big time program, a chance to go from coaching a mid-major team like Fordham to a potential perennial NCAA championship contender like Villanova.
But it wasn't just that, as though that weren't enough.
It was also a chance to go home again.
Ram vs Wildcat
While she had learned to be a Lady Ram during her record-breaking stay at Fordham, and while she rooted for the Port Chester Lady Rams softball team in general and Brooklyn (BK) Ostrowski in particular, Orchard was basically a Villanova Wildcat in her heart and soul.
That's where she played her college ball. That's the college she graduated from. That's where she met her husband, Jay. That's where she fell in love with him as well as the Philadelphia Main Line area so near to Villanova. And that's where she learned her coaching ABCs under coach Maria DiBernardi, who guided the Wildcats for the past 34 years and became a formative influence on Orchard's life.
Back in the day
It was DiBernardi who mentored her when she was a first team All-Big East selection and a Big East All-Academic Team member while playing for Villanova from 1994-97, a time when she was the school recordholder with 216 career hits and 110 runs scored while ranking as the second toughest hitter to strike out in the nation. Orchard graduated from Villanova with a degree in Communication Arts and went on to get a Master of Education from Temple. She also stayed in touch with her college coach.
It was DiBernardi who recommended she go into coaching softball at Cabrini University, virtually right across the street from the main Villanova campus. It was DiBernardi she leaned on for advice throughout her coaching days at Cabrini and later at Fordham, the two colleges where she built a national reputation after turning around both losing programs.
And finally it was DiBernardi who retired and recommended that Orchard be chosen to take her place, a decision Villanova seconded after making a nationwide search.
"I am beyond excited to be taking over as the head softball coach at Villanova University," Orchard said. "I knew that coming home to Villanova is what I needed to do. We share the same vision of where this program can go, and winning championships is what we plan to do."
Her husband, Jay, also a Villanova grad, and their three kids (Luke, 13, Zach, 12, and Isabelle, 8) were also on board with the decision even though it meant disrupting their lives. But as much as they loved the Blind Brook schools and the Rye Brook area, they wholeheartedly supported her move and encouraged her to take the job.
Join Nova Nation
"We are thrilled to be back home as part of Nova Nation," Bridget said.
But still it was hard to leave Fordham where her teams won 624 games in 17 seasons, including winning six consecutive Atlantic 10 titles, seven in the last eight seasons. She was also named Atlantic 10 coach of the year eight times while turning out five Atlantic 10 Players of the Year, three pitchers of the year, seven rookies of the year, five Academic All-Americans, 25 Academic All-Conference Honorees and a lot more while building Fordham into a nationally-ranked team and a perennial Atlantic 10 power even though they had never before had a winning season until she took over the team.
But still Fordham, despite its Seven Blocks of Granite/Vince Lombardi football glory days, its 80-acre oasis in the Bronx virtually across the street from the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo and Little Italy, and its proximity to its Lincoln Center campus, is a mid-major as far as collegiate sports.
Lots of history
Villanova is big time, having turned out NCAA basketball championship teams in two of the last four years along with winning Big East hoops championships and 36 NCAA Track and Field titles and boasting a 254-acre campus just 12 miles from Center City and less than a half-hour train ride from Philly.
Both schools started a year apart, Fordham under the Jesuits in 1841, Villanova under the Augustinians in 1842.
Both have outstanding reputations as leading Roman Catholic universities. And Bridget loved them both. Only she loves Villanova more.
Recruits BK Ostrowski
For Orchard, a return to Villanova means a chance to win the softball equivalent of basketball's Big Dance. So it was an offer she couldn't refuse. And it is the same reason she has made the same kind of offer to Brooklyn (BK) Ostrowski, an offer for a full athletic scholarship to the local kid she first read about in the Westmore News and scouted on the playing fields of Port Chester before recruiting her for Fordham during her freshman year. That was the same year BK made the All-State team for the first of two consecutive years.
BK initially made an oral commitment to Fordham after a tour of the Rose Hill campus with Orchard while still a Port Chester HS freshman. She has only gotten better since, starting her junior year with the Port Chester Lady Rams softball team with three home runs in her first three games.
Better with time
In fact, BK has only gotten better with time. She played on the Empire State Huskies Select Travel team during the off-season, meaning she played ultra-competitive softball throughout the triple-state area with the "regular" team but also was one of the top 13 players in the organization selected to play in high end tournaments in Atlanta, Orlando, Chattanooga, Myrtle Beach, Marietta, Hershey and Gainesville, all major collegiate showcases.
BK kept bumping into Orchard who was scouting potential Villanova recruits at a number of those showcases. And Orchard reminded her that she was the one who recruited her for Fordham and made her an offer she couldn't refuse, a free ride scholarship to Villanova worth about $300Gs including room and board.
Rams vs Wildcats
In a similar situation involving a star Westchester athlete, Dobbs Ferry basketball ace Eric Paschall opted for Fordham, excelled for the Rams for one year as a freshman and then switched to Villanova where he played in a national basketball championship last year, made the Big Dance again this year, played on a Big East championship team and has a real shot at the pros before he graduates in June.
BK thought it over. And decided to wait until her SAT scores came in before making up her mind. They came in. With good results. And BK opted to commit to Villanova over Fordham two weeks ago, around the same time she was selected for the second consecutive year to the elite Nine Who Shine scholastic team, that select group chosen from the top 75 scholastic softball players in Westchester and throughout the lower Hudson Valley.
BK still has this year and next to compete for Port Chester's Lady Rams before becoming a Villanova Wildcat instead of a Fordham Lady Ram. So there's no telling what comes next, including the possibility that BK's kid sister Madison, a talented Lady Ram freshman, may yet catch Orchard's eye. After all, Madi had a higher batting average than BK did last year when both batted over .400, made the All-League team as an eighth-grader who received All-Section Honorable Mention and played for the Empire State Huskies Select team.